The formation of snowflakes, the delicate, complex crystals of ice that will hopefully soon blanket mountain slopes and provide days of gliding joy, winter escape and alpine adventure, can be modeled using fractals.

So can the spread of COVID-19.

Like the stellar arms of snowflakes, Covid spreads in clusters, arms branching off of arms, new surfaces continually forming as every new individual infected becomes another potential growth vector.

Unfortunately, here in Teton County, across Wyoming, and throughout the nation, COVID, rather than snow, is blanketing our communities.

Fellow residents, we have two to six weeks to stem this tide. Unlike summer, when visitors fan out across public lands, our winter economy focuses visitors and locals on three mountains with lift access, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort preeminent among them.

If we allow COVID into the ski areas, if we cripple this one essential industry, our winter economy could collapse. With ski resorts idled, visitor volume plummets, customers drain from hotels, restaurants already teetering on the edge of viability have to close. Workers are laid off. The economy grinds to a halt.

That scenario could break small businesses, strip families of a season’s worth of income, and tragically take lives. But not if we return to the disciplined behavior we practiced earlier this year.

The ski area has examined every aspect of its operations and scientifically calculated capacities in everything from lift lines to gondola rides and restaurant seating. There’s even going to be a bootpack to the top of Rendezvous Bowl for those of you seeking a tram-free, lung-bursting addition to your powder skiing day.

But, critically, as a community we need to take the right steps. The need for comfort, friendship, family, companionship, entertainment with friends, the touch of a loved one runs deep — bottomless, as we say of a post-dump powder day. And it’s the holidays. How can we not be with friends and family? You can. But our visits have to be limited, thought out and within reasonable guidelines with respect to pandemic behavior.

If limiting our family and social gatherings feels like a letdown, the alternative is far worse. We simply cannot jeopardize our winter economic lifeline, the ski areas. Our winter economy is supported by one rope. We cannot let it fray or break.

No matter our values — conservative, liberal, ski bum — we know that as a community we are capable of voluntarily doing the right thing. Gov. Mark Gordon implored Wyomingites to vote for President Trump and to wear masks and follow other protective measures. Sen. John Barrasso too has pleaded that we wear masks and practice distancing, and we all know he’s no socialist. And if Old Bill’s giving is any indication, we know Teton County is capable of working together as a community.

We can do this.

Here are the health recommendations. We’ve read them. We know them. Let’s practice them.

We’ve got one shot, Jackson Hole. This winter’s not going to come around twice. We have less than six weeks until the busiest weeks of the winter season to lower infection rates and reduce hospitalizations. It’s the offseason, relatively free of outside visitation. Of any time of year, now is when we can control our destiny. For six weeks let’s practice the discipline we know we’re capable of.

And then, this one winter, let’s stay focused. We simply can’t let a New Year’s celebration or a 50th birthday party or a midwinter wedding or apres-ski visits to the bar turn into super spreader events, into growth vectors for another exponentially growing arm of the COVID pandemic.

We know what to do. Don’t go out when you don’t feel well. Avoid packed crowds and crowded indoor spaces. Wear a mask unless medically unable and wear it well. Wash hands. Clean surfaces. And if you do test positive, be forthright about where you’ve been and with whom you’ve been in contact. For this one winter.

Kelly resident Mark Newcomb serves on the Teton County Board of County Commissioners. Guest Shots are solely the opinion of their authors.

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